How do you break through all of the information clutter bombarding people today to get them to pay attention to a widespread, but obscure, global health threat? It’s a bit like asking someone to pick out the sound of a pin drop in a room full of tambourine-clanging kindergartners.
But for the END7 campaign, that’s exactly the challenge we are up against in our efforts to transform neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) into a mainstream health issue.
It doesn’t help that we are fighting diseases that defy easy pronunciation, let alone definition. Most people have never heard of schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis or lymphatic filariasis, but these and several other NTDs infect 1 in 6 people worldwide, including more than 500 million children.
NTDs are debilitating, disabling parasitic, and bacterial infections that prevent kids from going to school and parents from supporting their families. They are a major reason poor communities stay poor.
Few diseases match NTDs for sheer terror value. They are the stuff of nightmares: Trachoma, the second leading cause of preventable blindness in the world, causes eyelashes to curl inward, scratching out the cornea of infected individuals; lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, causes massive swelling of the limbs and genitals; schistosomiasis, also known as Snail Fever or Bilharzia, is the second leading parasitic killer after malaria. With it, intestinal worms breed to the point where they can destroy vital organs.
Despite the links between NTDs and just about every global development goal, however, these diseases are largely invisible to the general public and absent from major policy discussions.
To provide fuel to a growing global advocacy movement that began with last year’s London Declaration on NTDs, the END7 campaign was created by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases to raise public awareness about the devastating nature of NTDs and the relatively simple, affordable solutions available now to dramatically reduce their prevalence. As with any other top health issue, the more people know about it, the more policymakers and other funders will care about it.
We realized that the visual horror/devastation of these diseases can actually be an asset for advocacy if used appropriately. So to build mass awareness, we filmed a handful of celebrities reacting to footage of NTDs, then we challenged YouTube viewers to watch. The result is a powerful new advocacy video called How to shock a celebrity.
Chances are you’ve never seen anything like it, even if you work in public health. So far, the U.S. and UK versions have received more than 300,000 hits in the first week. Support from our friends at EMI, Sony Music, Universal and UpWorthy has helped us build a lot of early momentum.
Asking people to care about NTDs takes more than just one video. But it’s a great start to a movement that could help control and eliminate the scourge of these devastating diseases for millions of people by 2020, a goal that is within our reach and which could lead to broader success with other global health priorities.
We hope you will join us. Visit us at END7.org, watch the video, and be part of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
For a softer introduction to the NTD cause, please watch our animated Mission in a Minute.